The cartoon Wars take a new turn. Early this week an Iranian newspaper announced it would organise a cartoon competition:
Iran's best-selling newspaper launched a competition on Tuesday to find the best cartoon about the Holocaust, in retaliation for the publication in Denmark and other European countries of caricatures of the founder of Islam. (Reuters)
The object of publishing such Holocaust cartoons would be to test European sensitivities regarding free speech, on a super-sensitive topic such as the Holocaust.
But the Arab-European League (AEL), a small organisation based in Belgium has already beaten the Iranians to it, by starting to publish anti-Semitic, Holocaust denying caricatures.
On their site, the AEL state quite tongue-in-cheek:
Just like the newspapers in Europe claim that they only want to defend the freedom of speech and do not desire to stigmatise Muslims, we also do stress that our cartoons are not meant as an offence to anybody and ought not to be taken as a statement against any group, community or historical fact.
I've only seen two of the cartoons so far, here's one of them.
Now I'm a white Caucasian, agnostic male and I can assure you that what I've seen so far, I find indeed deeply offensive and saddening. That in today's world some will still deny or at least seriously diminish the scale of the Holocaust, defies belief. It is precisely because the events of the Holocaust and the incredible scale of it have been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that Holocaust denying is illegal in some European countries.
Personally I feel the legal issue doesn't really do much to solve the problem: sadly beliefs regarding the Holocaust as an exaggeration, or even a complete fabrication persist nonetheless and in spite of legal deterrents. In European countries those holding such beliefs are merely driven underground, exercising their right to free speech in private, amongst like-minded bigots and unchallenged. And in some parts of Arab society, such views are still fashionable.
The AEL's choice of an ethnic and religious group that had nothing to do with the original dispute is unfortunate and to some it will devalue their exercise in unfettered free speech. But that won't make the issue go away, nor is it useful to reduce it merely to childish tit-for-tat.
Others see a political dimension:
More broadly, European Union officials and diplomats said they were convinced that much of the violence against European diplomatic missions and citizens over the cartoons was not spontaneous but instigated by governments or political groups.
Some Muslims, while condemning the cartoons, have also voiced fears that radicals are hijacking the protests and distorting the debate over media freedom and religious respect.
Whilst this is undoubtedly true to some extent, my own reaction to the AEL cartoons shows something more basic is at work here. I dislike the cartoons because they violate what I hold to be true and dear: to me, Holocaust denial is a most vicious form of lying.
But I fully realise that the Prophet Mohammed wasn't a terrorist and that Islam is not a religion of terrorism: those also are lies.
There's an object lesson in modesty begging to be learnt here: just about anyone can be offended if the right "buttons" are pressed. Careful what you wish for...
Whilst it's definitely better to fight cartoons with cartoons than with killings and burning embassies, Iran's cartoon competition is likely to stir up more violence in the Middle East. If Iran believes it will delay the nuclear issue in this way, as some suggest, I believe it will be sadly mistaken.
Keywords: Islam, Muslims, Fatwa, Denmark, cartoons, Israel, Iran